It wasn’t all that long ago, it seems, that I came home and she was riding her tricycle in the driveway after her first day of kindergarten and I asked her how it went.
“Magnificent,” she replied. “It was more than I ever dreamed it would be.”
Early on she had her mother’s enthusiasm for life and thrived on new experiences. She’s never lost those gifts.
Her older brother was once asked along with several other sixth-graders to speak at the Lee County Library about the Harry Potter books they had read. In introducing himself, he gave his name, his age, where he went to school, and then added: “And my parents are very proud of me.”
It got a laugh. It took us by surprise. I suspect that was his intention on both counts.
Of course we were proud of him, and had told him so. And we were proud of the excited kindergartner and her younger sister.
All parents are proud of their children, to one degree or another. It’s a natural inclination.
We parents are invested in seeing them do well and become good people, not just for their own sakes and the world’s, but if we’re honest with ourselves, because we feel that whatever they do or become is a reflection on us – sometimes a good reflection, sometimes otherwise.
It really doesn’t matter if we had anything to do one way or the other with how they turned out, we’ll give ourselves credit – and yes, sometimes even the blame – anyway.
But there comes a time when taking the credit becomes a stretch, if not a joke. We have to acknowledge to ourselves that it’s about them, not us.
The talkative little girl whose first day at big kids’ school was “magnificent” is now living halfway across the globe, and her view of life as an adventure to be lived, not a problem to be solved, hasn’t abated. Though she’s pretty good at solving problems.
She finished college two years ago and wanted to return to Italy, where she had spent a semester. We said fine, we’ll pay your airfare over and after that you’re on your own. Somehow she has made it work, through sheer persistence, tenacity and force of will. She has an enjoyable, paying job, a roof over her head, enough to eat and speaks the language fluently. And she did it entirely on her own.
She’s made it work with qualities I can only wish I had picked up somewhere along the way. I can’t imagine myself being bold or adventuresome enough to do what she has done.
When our children were very young and the focal point of our lives was their care and maintenance, I would hear older parents say that you will think about them, worry about them, rejoice with them and cry with them just as much after they are gone from home as you did when they were there. I couldn’t quite fathom that, even when my own mother would occasionally let slip some apprehension she had about me or one of my siblings, even when we were on the cusp of middle age and beyond.
But of course it’s true. Your children are always your children. The trick, of course, is in transitioning to treating them like adults. What a pleasure it is to get to know them that way, to enter a new and deeply rich phase of that most fundamental of lifelong relationships.
August has been an especially rich time for us in that regard. The expat has been home for a few weeks because people apparently take the entire month off in Italy. The Harry Potter reader and his wife have a new home in Jackson we’ve visited for the first time, and both of his sisters, including the one who will graduate college next spring, were there.
We take it all in, and we are happy. And we’re not even grandparents yet.
Yesterday, she flew back to Italy. For how long – a year, a little longer, a lot longer – we’re not sure. What we do know is that she can take care of herself, whatever the duration, but even so, we will think about, worry about, and marvel about her often, just as we do her brother and sister.
That, we’ve now learned for ourselves, will never change.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or firstname.lastname@example.org.